In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.
But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):
Just one vote, just one senator, could put Republicans in control of the United States Senate. Scott Brown could be that senator. What would republican control mean? Deep cuts in education, Medicare; new tax breaks for millionaires; the next Supreme Court justice could overturn Roe v. Wade. One vote could make the difference–your vote, against a Republican Senate; your vote for Elizabeth Warren.
And this is the ad (and transcript) Brown is currently playing:
The coal company had moved on, but they didn’t just leave buildings behind. LTV Steel went to court to avoid paying health benefits it promised to retired coal miners. The corporation’s hired gun was Elizabeth Warren. Warren sided with yet another big corporation against working people. First, asbestos victims; now, she worked against coal miners. Elizabeth Warren’s just not who she says she is.
Though I’ve long thought that talking over the heads of Massachusetts voters would harm Warren’s campaign, there is an argument to make that she was left with no choice. Elections like this are often like a chess match: the player who moves first has an advantage in setting the tempo, and controlling the center often gives the player who does so the best chance at winning. As the incumbent, Brown set the tempo by putting his record out there and challenging his opponent to compete within those parameters.
And his moderate record has won control of the center, forcing Warren to his left. But Massachusetts is such an overwhelmingly Democratic state that there are quite a lot of votes left of center. And Brown’s record is popular—even in a blue state, his approval rating is above water. So she can’t run against his record, but must use him as a proxy for his national party.
The ironic aspect to all this is that Brown did something similar when he ran in the 2010 special election to replace Ted Kennedy. Obamacare was on the march and the Democrats thought they needed 60 votes in the Senate to pass it. Since the bill was unpopular in Massachusetts as elsewhere, Brown ran as the 41st vote against Obamacare, and won. Warren is trying to turn the tables on him by re-nationalizing the race, and telling voters that far from being the 41st Republican in the Senate, Brown might actually be the 51st, giving the GOP the majority.
Since voters are usually averse to any approach that involves minimizing their local issues in favor of overarching culture wars, such a strategy often fails. But Warren is betting that a state that voted in an anti-national-healthcare Republican to succeed Ted Kennedy has another surprise in it this year.